A new report by US-based advocacy group The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative says that fugivite warlord Joseph Kony is losing his grip on the fighters of his rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The full report, ‘Loosening Kony’s Grip: Effective Defection Strategies for Today’s LRA,’ can be read here.
A series of defections have left Kony struggling to stay in charge and the warlord has allegedly started executing disobedient or disloyal commanders amid a “transition of power to younger Ugandan officers.”
Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, leads the rebel group that originated in Uganda but which now is active in Congo and Central African Republic.
“This upheaval, combined with the awareness that Kony and senior officers have of the declining will to fight in the ranks, likely makes senior officers suspicious, and even paranoid, of each other,” the report said.
‘Come Home’ Campaign
“Come Home messages addressing these dynamics and targeting specific commanders could exploit these tensions in order to weaken the LRA,” the report says.
The ‘Come Home’ campaign uses speakers mounted on helicopters circling LRA-occupied areas as well as leaflets, radio broadcasts and Safe Reporting Sites to encourage defection – would yield better results if it were conducted in more areas where the group operates. According to the report, at least 31 Ugandan LRA combatants defected in 2012 and through the first six months of 2013.
About 100 US military advisers are aiding (since 2011) African troops in a military mission that encourages defections. The report cited the accounts of LRA defectors who say more rebels would risk defecting if they were assured of help in reintegrating back into their original villages.
“The apparent weakening of the LRA’s internal cohesion, their long tradition of holding civilian populations hostage to deter attacks, and the historic failure of military operations to achieve a decisive victory [suggest] that the most timely and cost-effective approach to dismantling the LRA is to encourage increased defections,” the authors said. “The large majority of people in the LRA were forcibly conscripted, and most, including many Ugandans, want to defect.”
But the lack of reliable intelligence on LRA commanders — and where exactly they are hiding — limits the effectiveness of the messages, the report said.
Kony has managed to avoid capture for over two decades despite millions of dollars spent on the hunt. He is now said to be hiding in territory controlled by Sudan’s military, in Kafia Kingi, a disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border where African Union troops tasked with his capture don’t have access. Watchdog groups said they are concerned that Kony can retreat there whenever his pursuers get close.
Although Sudan consistently denies supporting Kony or harbouring him but others, including Ugandan military officials, think differently.
Kony’s rebel group is diminished from previous years, and its forces now don’t exceed 500, a figure also cited by Brig. Dick Olum, a Ugandan military official who previously led African troops on the anti-Kony African Union mission. Some of Kony’s top lieutenants have recently been captured or killed in combat, and last year an LRA commander believed to be the group’s military strategist, Caesar Acellam, was seized by Ugandan troops.
The figure of 500 includes only 250 combatants – 200 Ugandans and 50 low-ranking fighters from CAR, DRCongo and South Sudan – and another 250 dependents.
The LRA, which originated in Uganda in the 1980s as a popular tribal uprising against the government, has become notorious for recruiting children as fighters and forcing girls to be sex slaves. Military pressure forced the LRA out of Uganda in 2005, and the rebels scattered across parts of central Africa.
The mission suffered a setback earlier this year after the Seleka coalition rebels overthrew President Bozize in Central African Republic and asked all foreign troops operating in the country to leave. Active military operations against Kony have since been suspended there.
According to the report, many LRA combatants in the increasingly fragmented group are disillusioned by the leadership’s failure to maintain contact and by the difficulty of life in remote rainforests far from home. Some are also disenchanted with the group’s recent shift towards forms of banditry, including harvesting elephant ivory.
“The Lord’s Resistance Army is likely weaker than it has been in at least 20 years… and morale among the Ugandan combatants that comprise the core of its force is at a new low,” the authors noted.